How to Stop Taking Things Personally
Do you take things personally?
I always have. My body and brain respond rapidly to the slightest hint of criticism, questioning, or doubt, tightening my muscles and pouring forth tears. All this happens far before my thinking mind kicks in.
One time a therapist said to me, in a nasty tone, “It’s not all about you, Sandra.” The conversation deteriorated from there with further verbal abuse.
I slid into confusion and distress, silently asking myself: “What is he doing? Why is he saying these things? What’s going on?” My gut screamed, “Get yourself out of here.”
It took a moment, but that’s what I did. I weakly announced, “You can’t talk to me that way,” got up and walked out. I continued to cry and tremble for quite a while after the encounter. It had aroused vestiges of trauma from early years.
The Four Agreements
Despite this therapist’s complete lack of skillfulness and the pain that ensued for me, to this day, when I find myself taking things personally, I sometimes hear his initial words in my head once again: “It’s not all about you, Sandra.” In fact, this happened recently and led me back to The Four Agreements, A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom [affiliate link].
In The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz says, “Don’t take anything personally.” It’s the second of his four agreements.
I consider this book a tough love boot camp for brave ones who want to fully commit to finding emotional and spiritual freedom. I love the Toltec Wisdom contained in this book.
Let’s take a look at what Ruiz says about taking things personally and how to overcome this self-harming habit.
Don’t Take Things Personally
Ruiz says you take things personally because, on some level, you agree with them. You may not agree with them literally, but something in the words, the look, or the behavior hooks you. In my own example, it wasn’t necessarily the exact words, but the implication that there’s something wrong with me.
Ruiz claims that taking things personally is an act of selfishness because, like my ex-therapist said, it indicates you think everything is about “you.”
I find that a little hard to hear and maybe you do too. This is the tough love part, right?
It may be self-centered in that moment to take things personally, but it doesn’t mean you’re a selfish person. You might be a very kind and compassionate person who has deep wounds that have brought about your emotional sensitivity or reactivity. Which can, by the way, also involve lashing out.
Ruiz continues by stating what other people do isn’t about you, it’s about them. They live in their own dream, the one they’ve constructed in their own mind. Their dream is rooted in the programming they received as a child and the subsequent agreements – around feeling states, beliefs, and opinions – they made in their mind So what they say and do has nothing to do with you.
How you respond reflects your own dream and the agreements you made as a child. And that's how it will be unless you take conscious steps to identify and change those agreements.
When you take things personally, it makes you easy prey for those who exploit and manipulate others. That’s why people who are naturally sensitive do best by avoiding people who drain their energy and those with narcissistic tendencies. The more you engage in such encounters, the more your sensitivity will be activated, and the more entrenched it will become in your brain.
That doesn’t mean the other person is at fault, you’re responsible for your own reactions. But you’ll need to learn how to strengthen your boundaries both energetically and psychologically to be able to withstand such behavior.
Read more about this: What to Do When Someone Robs Your Joy and Deflates Your Energy
The Alternative: Live in Love
Instead of taking things personally, Ruiz says to drop your fears and live from a place of love. When you live from love you find happiness, contentment, and a sense of peace that doesn’t depend on others.
Don’t take anything personally – even the good things. People flatter you because of something within them. If you live in love, you won’t need other people’s flattery. Your self-esteem will be in tact. You’ll already know you’re fine, beautiful, and wonderful.
You also don’t need to believe the inner critic or mean girl in your head. These critical voices come from the conditioning that you received as a child and have nothing to do with reality. You have a choice now to live under the thumb of your inner critic or to reject that programming.
When you take things personally, you create your own suffering. If you’ve learned to project on others, as most of us have, when you feel hurt or angry, you’ll blame others for your suffering instead of taking responsibility for it yourself. But doing so will just continue the cycle of suffering.
“When we really see other people as they are without taking it personally, we can never be hurt by what they say or do. Even if others lie to you, it is okay. They are lying to you because they are afraid. They are afraid that you will discover they are not perfect. It is painful to take that social mask off. If others say one thing, but do another, you are lying to yourself if you don’t listen to their actions. But if you are truthful with yourself, you will save yourself a lot of emotional pain. Telling yourself the truth about it may hurt, but you don’t need to be attached to the pain. Healing is on the way, and it’s just a matter of time before things will be better for you.” Don Miguel Ruiz
If you want to end your own suffering, don’t take anything personally. Instead, learn to see the bigger picture and live in love.
You Can Learn Not to Take Things Personally
Not taking things personally is a skill you can learn. It requires committed practice and takes time.
Here’s a recap of the main points from Ruiz and my own suggestions t0 will help you stop taking things personally.
- Practice switching your focus from “me” centered to seeing things as they are.
- Whatever another person thinks or feels is about them, not about you. It’s their problem, not yours. However, don’t ignore valid feedback from others. Just be sure to review it through the filter of your own inner wisdom.
- Even though we interact with others, we’re really dealing with ourselves – our own beliefs, perspectives, and projections. Because we rarely see people as they are, we see them through the filter of our own dream.
- What someone says or how they behave may touch your wounds, which is likely why you take it personally It would be advantageous to focus on healing your own wounds, rather than blaming the other person. You can come to see those moments when you feel tempted to take things personally as a reminder to turn your attention within to your own healing.
- Taking things personally can be a sign of low self-esteem. You feel hurt because you actually believe what the person has said about you. Make an assessment of the negative beliefs you hold about your worth. Then write a countermanding affirmation for each one, which you can say to yourself when you take things personally. Check out: 21 Mantras to Boost Your Self-Confidence
- Your version of reality isn’t the truth. You constructed your version of reality based on your previous experiences and conditioning. You can change the way you see the world by revisiting your agreements, rejecting the ones that aren’t based in truth, and creating new agreements that help you see yourself and the world as it is.
- Learn to soothe yourself when you feel emotional pain. When you tell yourself the truth about someone else’s words or behavior, it may hurt initially due to your own wounds, but you’ll be saving yourself a tremendous amount of emotional pain on the long run. By learning how to soothe yourself, you’ll be able to soften the initial pain as well.
Read more about How to Calm Stormy Emotions and Reclaim Your Peace
- Drop your fears and live from love.
Remind Yourself Often: Don't Take Anything Personally
Ruiz say to put the second agreement – don’t take anything personally – on your refrigerator, so you’ll see it often as a reminder.
When you practice the second agreement, he says:
“When you make it a strong habit not to take anything personally, you avoid many upsets in your life. Your anger, jealousy, and envy will disappear and even your sadness will simply disappear if you don’t take things personally.
This agreement and the ones that follow it are born from the first agreement: Be impeccable with your word. If you’d like to learn more, check out Ruiz’s book: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom [affiliate link]
I have taken things personally my entire life. I think most of us do, but it only brings suffering. I’ll always be a highly sensitive person, but I feel ready to be less emotionally reactive. Are you ready too?
How often do you take things personally? Have you ever tried to turn that around? I would love to hear more in the comments.
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for Wild Arisings, my twice monthly letters from my heart filled with insights, inspiration, and ideas to help you connect with and live from your truest self. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra